ON the anniversary of Saint George, 1536, and exactly seven years from the opening of this chronicle, Henry assembled the knights-companions within Windsor Castle to hold the grand feast of the most noble Order of the Garter.
Many important events had occurred in the wide interval thus suffered to elapse. Wolsey had long since sunk under his reverses - for he never regained the royal favour after his dismissal -- and had expired at Leicester Abbey, on the 26th November 1530.
But the sufferings of Catherine of Arragon were prolonged up to the commencement of the year under consideration. After the divorce and the elevation of Anne Boleyn to the throne in her stead, she withdrew to Kimbolten Castle, where she dwelt in the greatest retirement, under the style of the Princess Dowager. Finding her end approaching, she sent a humble message to the king, imploring him to allow her one last interview with her daughter, that she might bestow her blessing upon her; but the request was refused.
A touching letter, however, which she wrote to the king on her death- bed, moved him to tears; and having ejaculated a few expressions of his sense of her many noble qualities, he retired to his closet to indulge his grief in secret. Solemn obsequies were ordered to be performed at Windsor and Greenwich on the day of her interment, and the king and the whole of his retinue put on mourning for her.
With this arrangement Anne Boleyn cared not to comply. Though she had attained the summit of her ambition; though the divorce had been pronounced, and she was crowned queen; though she had given birth to a daughter -- the Princess Elizabeth, afterwards the illustrious queen of that name two years before; and though she could have no reasonable apprehensions from her, the injured Catherine, during her lifetime, had always been an object of dread to her. She heard of her death with undisguised satisfaction, clapped her hands, exclaiming to her attendants, "Now I am indeed queen!" and put the crowning point to her unfeeling conduct by decorating herself and her dames in the gayest apparel on the day of the funeral.
Alas! she little knew that at that very moment the work of retribution commenced, and that the wrongs of the injured queen, whose memory she thus outraged, were soon to be terribly and bloodily avenged.
Other changes had likewise taken place, which may be here recorded. The Earl of Surrey had made the tour of France, Italy, and the Empire, and had fully kept his word, by proclaiming the supremacy of the Fair Geraldine's beauty at all tilts and tournaments, at which he constantly bore away the prize. But the greatest reward, and that which he hoped would crown his fidelity -- the hand of his mistress - was not reserved for him.
At the expiration of three years, he returned home, polished by travel, and accounted one of the bravest and most accomplished cavaliers of the day. His reputation had preceded him, and he was received with marks of the highest distinction and favour by Henry, as well as by Anne Boleyn. But the king was still averse to the match, and forbade the Fair Geraldine to return to court.
Finding so much opposition on all sides, the earl was at last brought to assent to the wish of the Fair Geraldine, that their engagement should be broken off. In her letters, she assured him that her love had undergone no abatement -- and never would do so -- but that she felt they must give up all idea of an union.
These letters, probably the result of some manoeuvring on his own part, set on foot by the royal mandate, were warmly seconded by the Duke of Norfolk, and after many and long solicitations, he succeeded in wringing from his son a reluctant acquiescence to the arrangement.
The disappointment produced its natural consequences on the ardent temperament of the young earl, and completely chilled and blighted his feelings. He became moody and discontented; took little share in the amusement and pastimes going forward; and from being the blithest cavalier at court, became the saddest. The change in his demeanour did not escape the notice of Anne Boleyn, who easily divined the cause, and she essayed by raillery and other arts to wean him from his grief. But all was for some time of no avail. The earl continued inconsolable. At last, however, by the instrumentality of the queen and his father, he was contracted to the Lady Frances Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford, and was married to her in 1535.
Long before this the Duke of Richmond had been wedded to the Lady Mary Howard.
For some time previous to the present era of this chronicle, Anne Boleyn had observed a growing coolness towards her on the part of the king, and latterly it had become evident that his passion for her was fast subsiding, if indeed it had not altogether expired.
Though Anne had never truly loved her royal consort, and though at that very time she was secretly encouraging the regards of another, she felt troubled by this change, and watched all the king's movements with jealous anxiety, to ascertain if any one had supplanted her in his affections.
At length her vigilance was rewarded by discovering a rival in one of the loveliest of her dames, Jane Seymour. This fair creature, the daughter of Sir John Seymour, of Wolff Hall, in Wiltshire, and who was afterwards, it is almost needless to say, raised to as high a dignity as Anne Boleyn herself, was now in the very pride of her beauty. Tall, exquisitely proportioned, with a complexion of the utmost brilliancy and delicacy, large liquid blue eyes, bright chestnut tresses, and lovely features, she possessed charms that could not fall to captivate the amorous monarch. It seems marvellous that Anne Boleyn should have such an attendant; but perhaps she felt confident in her own attractions.
Skilled in intrigue herself, Anne, now that her eyes were opened, perceived all the allurements thrown out by Jane to ensnare the king, and she intercepted many a furtive glance between them. Still she did not dare to interfere. The fierceness of Henry's temper kept her in awe, and she knew well that the slightest opposition would only make him the more determined to run counter to her will. Trusting, therefore, to get rid of Jane Seymour by some stratagem, she resolved not to attempt to dismiss her, except as a last resource.
A slight incident occurred, which occasioned a departure from the prudent course she had laid down to herself.
Accompanied by her dames, she was traversing the great gallery of the palace at Greenwich, when she caught the reflection of Jane Seymour, who was following her, in a mirror, regarding a jewelled miniature. She instantly turned round at the sight, and Jane, in great confusion, thrust the picture into her bosom.
"Ah I what have you there?" cried Anne.
"A picture of my father, Sir John Seymour," replied Jane, blushing deeply.
"Let me look at it," cried Anne, snatching the picture from her. "Ah! call you this your father? To my thinking it is much more like my royal husband. Answer me frankly, minion -- answer me, as you value your life! Did the king give you this?"
"I must decline answering the question," replied Jane, who by this time had recovered her composure.
"Ah! am I to be thus insolently treated by one of my own dames?" cried Anne.
"I intend no disrespect to your majesty," replied Jane, "and I will, since you insist upon it, freely confess that I received the portrait from the king. I did not conceive there could be any harm in doing so, because I saw your majesty present your own portrait, the other day, to Sir Henry Norris."
Anne Boleyn turned as pale as death, and Jane Seymour perceived that she had her in her power.
"I gave the portrait to Sir Henry as a recompense for an important service he rendered me," said Anne, after a slight pause.
"No doubt," replied Jane; "and I marvel not that he should press it so fervently to his lips, seeing he must value the gift highly. The king likewise bestowed his portrait upon me for rendering him a service."
"And what was that?" asked Anne.
"Nay, there your majesty must hold me excused," replied the other. "It were to betray his highness's confidence to declare it. I must refer you to him for explanation."
"Well, you are in the right to keep the secret," said Anne, forcing a laugh. "I dare say there is no harm in the portrait -- indeed, I am sure there is not, if it was given with the same intent that mine was bestowed upon Norris. And so we will say no more upon the matter, except that I beg you to be discreet with the king. If others should comment upon your conduct, I may be compelled to dismiss you."
"Your majesty shall be obeyed," said Jane, with a look that intimated that the request had but slight weight with her.
"Catherine will be avenged by means of this woman," muttered Anne as she turned away. "I already feel some of the torments with which she threatened me. And she suspects Norris. I must impress more caution on him. Ah! when a man loves deeply, as he loves me, due restraint is seldom maintained."
But though alarmed, Anne was by no means aware of the critical position in which she stood. She could not persuade herself that she had entirely lost her influence with the king; and she thought that when his momentary passion had subsided, it would return to its old channels.
She was mistaken. Jane Seymour was absolute mistress of his heart; and Anne was now as great a bar to him as she had before been an attraction. Had her conduct been irreproachable, it might have been difficult to remove her; but, unfortunately, she had placed herself at his mercy, by yielding to the impulses of vanity, and secretly encouraging the passion of Sir Henry Norris, groom of the stole.
This favoured personage was somewhat above the middle Size, squarely and strongly built. His features were regularly and finely formed, and he had a ruddy complexion, brown curling hair, good teeth, and fine eyes of a clear blue. He possessed great personal strength, was expert in all manly exercises, and shone especially at the jousts and the manege. He was of an ardent temperament, and Anne Boleyn had inspired him with so desperate a passion that he set at nought the fearful risk he ran to obtain her favour.
In all this seemed traceable the hand of fate -- in Henry's passion for Jane Seymour, and Anne's insane regard for Norris -- as if in this way, and by the same means in which she herself had been wronged, the injured Catherine of Arragon was to be avenged.
How far Henry's suspicions of his consort's regard for Norris had been roused did not at the time appear. Whatever he felt in secret, he took care that no outward manifestation should betray him. On the contrary he loaded Norris, who had always been a favourite with him, with new marks of regard, and encouraged rather than interdicted his approach to the queen.
Things were in this state when the court proceeded to Windsor, as before related, on Saint George's day.